Movies: 'Ted,' 'Magic Mike' & 'Savages'
Updated 6:52 pm, Saturday, July 14, 2012
Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
I'd have loved to be at the studio meeting when "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane pitched the high-concept premise for this live action/CG-animated, R-rated comedy about a guy, his girl and his gross teddy bear.
Narrated by Patrick Stewart, it begins at Christmas as lonely 8-year-old John Bennett (Brett Manley) hugs his new teddy bear, one that squeaks, "I love you," when you squeeze it. That night, he wishes on a falling star that his stuffed animal could really talk. The next morning Teddy comes to life, startling Johnny, his parents and the rest of the world. Like all "instant celebrities," however, Teddy's fame fades and he settles in as John's constant companion and boorish best buddy.
Working at a Boston car rental agency, 35-year-old John (Mark Wahlberg) is a man-child, dwelling in a state of arrested development, refusing to accept the responsibility that comes with maturity. After a particularly appalling evening in which bong-sucking, profanity-spewing Ted caroused with prostitutes, John's longtime, live-in girlfriend Lori Collins (Mila Kunis) insists that Ted move out. To be able to afford his own apartment and beer brawls, Ted gets a job at the local supermarket, where he begins romancing floozy cashier Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth). Meanwhile, Rex (Joel McHale), Lori's lecherous boss, has his own agenda. And when Ted entices John to sneak out of Rex's lavish party to nostalgically down shots with TV's former Flash Gordon (Sam Jones), their relationship implodes. John laments, "I wish I'd gotten a Teddy Ruxpin." But then Ted gets kidnapped.
First-time writer/director/voice star Seth MacFarlane finds humor in a myriad of rude, offensive pop-culture references, aided and abetted by "Family Guy" co-writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, plus a Norah Jones cameo. Boyish-looking Mark Wahlberg is totally convincing talking with his teddy bear, reminiscent of Jimmy Stewart chatting with the invisible rabbit in "Harvey," except that everyone can hear what Ted has to say.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Ted" is an amusing, irreverent, outrageous 8 -- the weirdest, funniest movie I've seen in a long time.
Female strippers are a dime a dozen -- perhaps less if you count Elizabeth Berkley in "Showgirls" -- but, except for "The Full Monty" (1997), there's never been a mainstream movie about male exotic dancers.
Affable Magic Mike (Channing Tatum) stars in the erotic Kings of Tampa strip show but his real ambition is to earn a living as a custom furniture designer/craftsman, and he yearns for a committed relationship. During the day, he works in Florida construction, which is where he meets Adam (Alex Pettyfer), a 19-year-old dropout, whom he introduces to Xquisite dance club owner/M.C. Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) as the Kid. As a naive newcomer to dirty dancing/disrobing, the Kid picks up thong pointers from Big Dick Richie (Joe Managiello from "True Blood"), Ken (Matt Bomer), Tito (Adam Rodriguez) and Tarzan (WWE's Kevin Nash). Meanwhile, his hard-working, over-protective older sister Brooke (Cody Horn) is none too happy about this turn of events as cocky Adam gets engulfed in the stoned/party scene and she finds herself attracted to good-hearted, gyrating Mike. But when Dallas decides to move the tawdry troupe to a big-time venue in Miami, major complications arise.
Tackling this garish, fantasy-driven, role-reversal story, cinematographer/editor/director Steven Soderbergh ("Haywire," "Ocean's Eleven," "Traffic," "Contagion") and choreographer Alison Faulk display men as blatant sex objects in Chippendales-style, butt cheeks-baring chaps, gathering money in their jockstraps while searching for artistic validity in other realms.
Reportedly, Soderbergh and Tatum split the film's $7 million cost, a particularly savvy move for hunky Tatum, who once worked as a stripper and whose naturalistic acting ability exceeds what surfaced in "21 Jump Street," "Dear John," "Step Up," "G.I. Joe" and "The Vow." But it's preening Matthew McConaughey, whose rippling torso steals the picture, along with his amusing banter as he taunts deliriously enthusiastic, if flustered customers, describing, "What the law says you can touch and not touch," salaciously adding, "But I think I see a lot of lawbreakers in this house tonight!"
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Magic Mike" is a sleazy 7, a raunchy, R-rated beefcake feast.
Every generation has its new invasion of savages -- so now it's Mexico's drug cartels. That's what Southern California's Laguna Beach weed barons/best buddies Ben (Aaron Johnson) and Chon (Taylor Kitsch) discover when they're presented with a merchandising offer they can't refuse from mega-powerful, Tijuana-based Elena Sanchez (Salma Hayek) and her ruthless enforcer Lado (Benicio del Toro), backed by corrupt D.E.A. agent Dennis (John Travolta).
Disparate in personalities but bizarrely devoted to one another since high school, Ben is a sensitive, UC Berkeley-educated botanist who takes time off to dig water wells in Burma and donate laptops to African children, while Chon is a cynical, battle-scarred Navy SEAL/Iraq War veteran who brought back their original buds from Afghanistan. Most implausibly, they graciously share a vacuous, shopaholic girl-friend, Ophelia (Blake Lively), called O, who gets kidnapped yet lives to narrate this cannabis-fueled reminiscence, although her survival often is in question.
O calls one "a Buddhist," the other "a Baddist," describing sex with volatile Chon as "I have orgasms; he has war-gasms."
Channeling Quentin Tarantino's testosterone-fueled, ironic style, filmmaker Oliver Stone ("Natural Born Killers," "JFK," "Any Given Sunday") optioned Don Winslow's pulpy drug war novel before it was published in 2010 and began work on the screenplay adaption, which wallows in excessively grisly gore, particularly when double-crossing Ben and Chon frame Elena's political pal Alex (Demian Bichir) to get tortured as an informant and then abduct Elena's estranged daughter Magda (Sandra Echeverria) to use as their pawn in a hostage-exchange plan.
Taylor Kitsch ("Battleship," "John Carter") and Aaron Johnson ("Kick-Ass") are two of Hollywood's blandest leading boys, while bland Blake Lively ("The Town") whines winsomely. Reportedly, Jennifer Lawrence originally was cast as O but wisely chose "The Hunger Games" instead and, although Uma Thurman played O's mother, her scenes were discarded. According to production notes, all the lushly photographed pot plants are artificial, although production designers researched medical marijuana growers for authenticity.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Savages" is a silly, sordid, sadistic 6, filled with gratuitously excessive grisly, graphic violence.